Gears Tactics Review: A Cognitive Spin Off

I reviewed Gears Tactics on an Xbox Series X on intermediate difficulty.

You can find a video version of this review here: Gears Tactics Review: X-COG (Turn Based Tactics Game) – YouTube

Overview

Gears Tactics convinced me that pretty much every videogame IP should get the X-COM treatment. Halo, Death Stranding, The Elder Scrolls, all of it. It’s incredibly fascinating to take an existing game and watch all of its mechanics translate into a tactical turn-based version of itself.

Despite the resemblance, Gears Tactics is not a mere reskin of X-COM, and they have a lot less in common than you might initially think. That fact is both one of the game’s biggest strengths and weakest links.

Despite appearances, Gears Tactics is no mere X-COM clone.

Keeping in spirit with the third-person shooting series that inspired it, Gears Tactics feels fast. Your squad will take on hordes of enemies at once, cutting them down in hail storms of gunfire and running up close for brutal executions. Yet, outside of battle, it definitely feels like the machine is missing a cog or two.

Grub Hunting

Gears Tactics features a story that feels like it could have come from the mainline series with full cutscenes and cohesive dialogue. It follows the story of Gabriel Diaz, a name you might recognize as the father of Kait Diaz. Like any Gears game, don’t come expecting a profound plotline. But it is far more detailed than what you would normally find in the genre.

The combat features many expected conventions of the genre. Each soldier has a number of action points to move around, attack, and use abilities. Taking cover is vitally important against ranged enemies, and your soldiers can be one of several classes.

What really makes Gears Tactics shine is the incredible way most of the mechanics found in the Gears titles translate into the game. You can command your soldiers to kick away tickers, and then detonate them into the faces of their allies. If you kill a Boomer or Theron Guard, you can pick up their explosive weaponry.

Taking a Boomshot from a fallen Boomer can turn the tide of battle.

Downed enemies can be executed. This grants your entire team an extra action, allowing you to chain together several extra attacks to stem the tide of the locust horde. There is never a moment where you aren’t aware that this is very much a Gears of War game.

In fact, Gears Tactics feels faster-paced than similar games since it focuses on throwing tons of enemies at you that go down fairly easy. But they can overwhelm you if you mess up.

A lot of the strategy focuses on getting as many extra attacks as possible or setting up kill zones of overwatch gunfire to take swarms of chumps out in a single barrage so you can focus on the meatier enemies.

It all works really well and feels awesome. The animations are pulled straight from the franchise with brutal chainsaw executions and explosive gore. Each of the game’s five classes uses different weapon types and can branch off through a varied skill tree so that you can tweak individual soldiers’ playstyles.

Not all missions boil down to slaying the enemy. Some require you to defend positions, or rescue folks trapped in torture pods. The game does a decent job of keeping you on your toes. If you ever get too comfortable, something will leg sweep your strategy and force you to adapt.

Firing lines are important when dealing with swarms of melee enemies.

For example, emergence holes need to be blown up, or locusts will just keep pouring out. Boss fights will turn the way you think about the game completely upside down. There are far fewer of them than I would like though. That’s a shame since they do a great job of changing up the pace.

That’s because, despite the game’s best efforts, missions can become stale very quickly. The enemy variety just isn’t there, or rather, several enemy types only feel vaguely different to fight. This is compounded by the fact that Gears Tactics is a very linear game that has you follow a set path of missions.

There are side missions, though calling them that is incredibly disingenuous. You are forced to play a set number of them in between main missions in order to continue the story. They can have a few modifiers, but they play pretty much the same as any other.

Boss fights are rare but awesome.

Gears Tactics lacks the procedural and unpredictable sandbox nature of similar games, and that’s partly to blame for the repetition. Its linearity also makes you far less invested in your soldiers. Most missions require one or more main characters while the rest are just there to support the ones with plot armor.

If one of them dies, you will always have a couple of new recruits of equal level to take their place. So it’s hard to care about them. If you fail a mission or the main characters eats dirt, that’s a game over, and you reload a checkpoint. There’s no failing forward.

You pick up random loot during a mission to outfit your squad, and the class skill trees are pretty impressive with several ways to build out each class. But it feels very stilted. The linear nature of the game means your squad is largely gaining levels at a set pace and your new recruits always match it. It feels less like a war against the locust and more like a series of checklists you go through each mission.

I only remember this soldiers name because it has sex in it.

Squad management as a whole feels like an afterthought, given the incredibly clunky interface used to outfit them. There’s no easy way to sort through gear or to figure out what is equipped to who in a timely manner.

Between missions I was constantly swapping gear from one soldier to another. Not due to any strategy, but because I always had gear that was better than the rest and needed the soldiers that were actively going into a mission to use them.

While the skill trees are impressive and the combat is a near-perfect translation of Gears mechanics into the turn-based genre, I can’t help but feel like the linear storyline progression of missions is wasted potential. It doesn’t really fit the genre at all.

The skill tree for each class is varied.

In some ways, it feels like Gears Tactics made a deliberate effort not to copy X-COM too closely, but missed what makes those games so special in the first place.

Verdict

Gears Tactics is a bit of a mixed bag, it does a lot of things really well. The combat is a lot of fun, and nearly every mechanic from the gears series translates seamlessly. It features five unique classes with varied skill trees, but it’s difficult to actually care about the characters they belong to.

The biggest thing to understand about Gears Tactics is it’s not X-COM. It’s not an incredibly varied game of evolving strategy. It’s a Gears game from another perspective. You play through the campaign and put it away because it has almost no replay value.

Squad Goals.

If that appeals to you, that’s great. Repetition can set in quickly, but if I’m being entirely honest, that’s also true of the mainline series. I just feel that it’s a waste to not completely take advantage of the genre.

In the end. Gears Tactics has the heart, body, and soul of a true Gears of War game that makes it shine in combat with blood-pumping action despite being turn-based. The repetition and linear focus make it a few cogs short of being a Marcus Fenix instead of a Carmine. Fun and lovable, but destined to die quickly.

You might also enjoy my review of Gears 5

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Pros

  • Gears of War translates to a turn based setting perfectly
  • The fast paced nature of taking on hordes and setting up execution’s is fun
  • Solid story that feels like it’s from a main line title
  • Five classes with diverse skill tree’s
  • Difficulty settings present

Cons

  • The lack of variety gets repetitive quickly
  • The linear nature compounds the repetition and forces you to play side missions to progress
  • It’s difficult to get invested in your soldiers, the main characters are the stars
  • Inventory management is a clunky, time consuming mess
  • No replay value